King Manasseh of Judah: From Depths of Depravity to Child of God

The name of Manasseh is a name of infamy, and of the probably small number of people who know anything at all about him, fewer still know much more than that he was one of the kings of Judah.  And they probably couldn’t tell you whether he was a good king or a bad.

The advantages which should have made Manasseh a faithful servant of God 

Manasseh had the advantage of being directly descended from King David; consequently he was privileged to serve as the shepherd of God’s people.  His father was Hezekiah whom God commended (2 Kings 18:3-6).

Consequently, Hezekiah would have taught his son, the crown prince, about God; and would have taught him his responsibilities to both God and God’s people.  Manasseh, as he grew up, would also have been surrounded by other godly men and women in Hezekiah’s court, and been able to observe godliness and service in all these servants of God.  And he would have known that he, too, was destined and being groomed to be king and ruler of God’s people, on behalf of the God of heaven and earth. 

Unfortunately, the court would also have had its share of godless, apostate, and totally immoral men and women; and it would seem that this apostate crowd were able to gain more influence and control over him than did his godly father, the king.  Weak Manasseh was apparently unable to resist them, especially given the young age at which he ascended the throne.  And for such a young and impressionable man – a recently become adolescent and almost teenager, really – the attraction of the sexual world into which he was being drawn, would have captivated him.

So, despite his privileges and advantages which should have enabled him to live an outstandingly godly life, he sinned in the most grievous and gross ways.  God condemned the princes, the prophets, and the priests in Manasseh’s time because of their sins, saying to them, “Israel’s sentinels are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are silent dogs that cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.  The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough.  The shepherds also have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, to their own gain, one and all” (Isa 56:10-11).  And these are they whom Manasseh chose to heed in preference to his father.

Sadly, even some children of today’s pastors, ministers, missionaries and other servants of God, who grow up under the sound of the gospel, reject it, thinking they know better; and, like Manasseh, live in rebellion to God, their lives a disgrace, their attitudes so hostile to God, and their guilty consciences condemning them so relentlessly, that they reject even the idea of God and claim that he doesn’t even exist. 

All this demonstrates that the highest position in the service of God is no protection against sin, corruption, and apostasy, if this privilege is taken for granted or rejected. 

How was Manasseh Unfaithful to God?

The best and most concise way to describe Manasseh’s reign is simply to quote the bible; it is the Holy Spirit’s assessment and judgment of this wicked man.  It is a horrifying catalogue of the most heinous sins and crimes, but, Alas! we too quickly read over the passage, letting our eyes run over the words on the page but not pondering the enormity of Manasseh’s wickedness, thus allowing it to sink in to our soul, which should then cause us to recoil in revulsion and outrage.

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign; he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.  He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, following the abominable practices of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.  For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he erected altars for Baal, made a sacred pole, as King Ahab of Israel had done, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them.  He built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put my name.’ He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord He made his son pass through fire; he practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.  The carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to his son Solomon, ‘In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever;  I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander any more out of the land that I gave to their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.’ But they did not listen; Manasseh misled them to do more evil than the nations had done that the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel…..Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he caused Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:1-9, 16).

The abominations of the heathen

It’s easy to read through this catalogue of sins against God and crimes against humanity and not be touched by it, if we don’t take the time to ponder the enormity of what is being described here, and if we don’t understand the background of what made Manasseh’s sins so sinful.  For example, what were “the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel” (2 Chron 28:3)?  Moses tells us: “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations.  No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.  For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you” (Deut 18:9-12). 

These sins, which the LORD tells us are abomination to him, were done greedily by Manasseh; and the above passage in 2 Kings 21: 2-7 enlarges on these abominations, showing the depraved worship practiced by Manasseh and consequently all of Jerusalem and Judah.  Manasseh, who ought to have been a shepherd of God’s people as his godly father was, led the people instead into the grossest forms of idolatry and blasphemy imaginable.  The worship practiced under Manasseh was vile and utterly degrading, but he and his sinful people revelled in it.  What a great fall this was – from Hezekiah’s godly reign to the depths of depravity under Manasseh.  And how fickle the people who first followed godly Hezekiah, and then wicked Manasseh (Jas 1:5-7; Eph 4:14).

God dishonoured and de-throned

Goaded on to ever increasing wickedness by Satan, as a horse being mercilessly whipped in order to make it go faster and faster, Manasseh even set up altars to pagan deities in the temple of Yahweh, the place of which the Lord said to David of his son, Solomon, He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:13).  And of God’s presence on Zion, where the temple was situated, David sang, “he [God] chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever” (Ps 78:68-69).  This was the height of blasphemy!  Satan, through Manasseh, rubbing it in God’s face, as it were, entering God’s own house with his filthy cloven feet and hideous visage and pulling him down from his own throne.  The defiance, the wickedness, is breath-taking.  But so is the judgment that comes on the nation in consequence of this enormous blasphemy – it will be judgment so severe that “the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (2 Kings 21:12).

Demons honoured and worshipped

The wall had been breached.  Man had defied God and seemed to get away with it.  Satan had ascended the throne of God on earth.  The setting up of the altars, the idols, and the groves, in the house of God had gone unpunished.  The way for Satan’s hosts was now clear and they came in like a flood.  The people engaged in vile and degrading sexual worship of vile and disgusting demons – every form of sexual depravity was practiced (see Lev ch 18 and 20); children were sacrificed to the vile god/demon Moloch; the people sought guidance and counsel from demons through mediums and psychics; witches and wizards replaced the prophets of God; blood was everywhere and the streets of Jerusalem, from one end of the city to the other ran with the blood of the innocent (2 Kings 21:16).  God had promised his people that as long as they obeyed the law of Moses they would remain in the land he had given them forever – “But they did not listen; Manasseh misled them to do more evil than the nations had done that the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:8-9).

Death!  Death!  And more death!

Blood ran down the streets of Jerusalem in torrents.  The blood shed was not legal punishments for crimes committed, but was the blood – the lives – of innocent people (2 Kings 21:16).  Demons love death.  Satan, Jesus tells us, “was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44); and wherever he and his cohorts are present, so are death, and degraded and degrading sexual activity.  Why is this?  The answer is in the first book of the bible.  After the flood recorded in Genesis – which was God’s judgment on humanity for the widespread and intense evil in the world – he instructed Noah: “For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.  Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind (Gen 9:5-6).  This was God’s first command to humanity after the earth had been cleansed from the evil that had polluted it.  It was linked with the command to “be fruitful and multiply” i.e. produce life (Gen 9:7).  God gives life; Satan takes it.  Satan hates man because he is made in the image of God.  And so, because of his great hatred for God whom he can’t destroy, he vents his hatred and rage on mankind, who are made in God’s image.  He loves to see and inflict suffering and brutal murder and to see blood splashing and spraying and flowing everywhere.  And he loves enslaving human beings to every imaginable (and unimaginable) form of sordid and filthy sexual activity.  The more perverse it is, the more he delights in it, because it defaces the glorious image of God in Man.  Hence the long history of highly sexualised and perverted worship in pagan nations and cultures, human sacrifice which includes children, and the symbolic shedding of blood and death even in lawful modern day rituals of demonic cults such as Freemasonry.

Further background

And so we understand more clearly now why God insisted that the person who took another person’s life must also be put to death – God would not even accept a substitutionary sacrifice for the murderer.  “…you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death….you shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.  You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites” (Num 35:31, 33-34).  Show no pity; you shall purgethe guilt of innocent bloodfrom Israel, so that it may go well with you” (Deut 19:13). 

Furthermore, if a murdered person was found but the culprit was not known, God still required an animal sacrifice with the performance of a specific ritual in order that the innocent people in the area be not held accountable for it.  “’Absolve, O LORD, your people Israel, whom you redeemed; do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel.’  Then they will be absolved of blood guilt.  So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, because you must do what is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deut 21:8-9).

And we understand more fully the heinous crime of the Jews who were clamouring for Jesus’ death before Pontius Pilate when he offered to release Jesus according to one of their customs; but they demanded that Barabbas should be released instead.  Luke tells us that Barabbas had been imprisoned for murder (Lk 23:19), a man who had shed the blood of another and who consequently had forfeited the right to live.  These priests, knowing the law of Moses so well, were so blinded by hatred for Jesus, that they would rather offend God by having a convicted murderer released, despite all God’s instructions that a murderer should lose his own life for taking another’s, and they committed an innocent man to death.  They had completely reversed the clear, specific, reasoned, commands of God, and brought the land and the nation under God’s just condemnation (Lk 23:25).  But such was their demonically inspired hatred for the Son of God that they willingly brought down upon their own heads and that of the whole nation the curse and abandonment by God:  “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (Matt 27:25).

And now we understand more fully the sinfulness and heinous blasphemy of Manasseh.  This man who had been reared in the family and the court of the godliest king in Judah’s history, groomed to lead the people of God in worship and obedience, rejected everything his godly father had taught him, and seduced and led God’s people to abandon him and instead serve the demonic deities of the heavens and of the elements and of the weather and of fertility, doing so with perverted sexualised worship and much shedding of blood in child sacrifice and the murders of multitudes of innocents.  Under Manasseh, the whole land, the whole nation, was given over to sin and depravity of unspeakable corruption and wickedness.  Both he and the nation provoked God to such an extent that he would no longer tolerate them any longer, but would bring down his just judgment upon them.  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). 

God’s Just Judgment Falls on Manasseh and Judah 

The narrative repeatedly states that Manasseh’s actions were done “in the sight of the LORD”; and that God was “provoked to anger” (2 Kings 21:6).  So is it any surprise that God responded in fierce anger to Manasseh’s wickedness and sins?  In another account of the life of Manasseh, we’re told: The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed.  Therefore the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon.  While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.  He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord indeed was God (2 Chron 33:10-13).

But despite that God forgave Manasseh personally for his sins because he confessed them to God and repented, he refused to forgive the unrepentant people of Judah and Jerusalem for the sins of Manasseh.  To the people of Judah, God said through the prophet Jeremiah, Then the Lord said to me: Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!….And I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, and the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth to devour and destroy.  I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what King Manasseh son of Hezekiah of Judah did in Jerusalem (Jer 15:1, 3-4).

Manasseh Turns to God

In the hour of his greatest need, Manasseh remembered the teaching of his youth, that King Solomon, his forefather, prayed to God at the dedication of the new temple – the temple which Manasseh had defiled so wickedly – and asked of God, If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.  If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; yet if they come to their senses in the land to which they have been taken captive, and repent, and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned, and have done wrong; we have acted wickedly’; if they repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies, who took them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their ancestors, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name; then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you; and grant them compassion in the sight of their captors, so that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people and heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron-smelter) (1 Kings 8:44-51).

Manasseh’s Faith Demonstrated by Works

But Manasseh repented according to God’s prescription as described in Solomon’s prayer, remembering the teaching of his youth.  And when he returned to his city and his palace, and again took up the throne of his fathers to rule his people, it was a different man with a different outlook who now ruled Judah.  Manasseh demonstrated his new-found faith by his works (Jas 2:14-26).  Afterward he built an outer wall for the city of David west of Gihon, in the valley, reaching the entrance at the Fish Gate; he carried it around Ophel, and raised it to a very great height. He also put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah. He took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them out of the city.  He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of well-being and of thanksgiving; and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord the God of Israel.  The people, however, still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God (2 Chron 33: 14-17).

The Account of Manasseh is an Example of Grace

It is a blessing to the Church that somebody wrote the two books of Chronicles, and especially so as we consider the life and fate of Manasseh.  The vital information of Manasseh’s repentance recorded in 2 Chronicles is found nowhere else in the bible.  If we only had the account in 2 Kings, we would believe that Manasseh died unrepentant, another lost sinner, another rebel who abandoned God, and consequently lies in hell in unspeakable torment.  But that is not how the story ends.  It is actually very different, as we have seen, and tells the story of a proud and arrogant man who defied God, and then in his calamity, humbled himself before God; it tells the story of a man whom God loved and had predestined to eternal life.  It tells the story of a kind, gracious and merciful God who is “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  It tells of a God who is full of grace: “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).  It tells of a God who has provided a way of escape from the fires of hell for all who wish to take it, no matter how great and how many their sins.  It tells of a Saviour who assures sinners: “…people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt 12:31).  Suffice it to say here that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan; and denotes a heart that is adamantly and stubbornly set against God.  The main point to be grasped is the all-encompassing forgiveness of all our sins.  “… in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19).

The grace of God and the blood of Christ are so effective, so powerful, that all the sins of all the sinners in all the world from beginning to end can be forgiven if only they humbly confess their sins to God, as did Manasseh (1 Jn 1:8-10).  Indeed, the shed blood of Jesus for sinners is sufficient to save worlds of sinners.  Manasseh is here displayed as a sinner saved by grace, demonstrating that no sinner is too sinful to be saved if he repents. 

“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.”  “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.